Prison needs to update notification system

January 31, 2009

It's been 15 days since a convicted murderer escaped from Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, an escape that some people who live near the prison south of Hagerstown said they didn't know about.

Ten days after Kandelario Garcia-Ramos was captured, there are questions that still need to be answered.

Primarily, why was there not a greater effort to notify area residents?

If it happens again, it's obvious the way people are notified about an escape needs to be changed. Only sounding a siren to alert people of an escape isn't enough.

Prison officials said the siren was used, but two people who live near the prison told Herald-Mail reporter Erin Julius they didn't hear it. One of them said he would have been asleep and might have missed it.

Using a siren is all well and good, but I can see where people might not have heard it. I'm a pretty deep sleeper and I might have slept through it myself.


What's more alarming is three other people Erin talked to said they didn't know about the escape until at least two days after it happened.

There's an escaped prisoner on the loose and residents still don't know about this 48 hours later? What's wrong with this picture?

Back in the late 1990s, I lived on Garis Shop Road, which isn't too far from MCI. My daughter was only an infant at that point. I don't think someone from the prison saying the siren was sounded would have satisfied me.

But sometimes you don't realize there is a problem until something happens. Well, that thing has happened.

It's time to update the notification process. There needs to be a solution in place soon, not a year or two down the road.

The siren still needs to be used and officials can go door to door advising residents of an escape, but faster methods must be explored.

In Pennsylvania, an automated calling system is in place to quickly contact all registered telephone numbers within a radius of one or two miles of the affected prison. A recorded message advises residents of the situation and what they should do.

Other prisons use hot-line phone numbers and reverse 911 notification systems. There's a lot of good technology out there. Prison officials need to take advantage of it.

Also, law enforcement officials need to know about these kind of situations as soon as a possible escape is suspected.

Why didn't prison officials notify state police of the escape until at least four hours after it occurred and at least two hours after evidence of the escape was discovered?

Common sense tells me the longer you wait, the farther away an escapee can get from prison. Prison officials say they needed to verify a count of prisoners, but I'd have been on the phone with police right away.

The worst that can happen is somebody miscounts the number of prisoners and officials can apologize for a false alarm. Residents still might get upset over that, but they also might appreciate that officials erred on the side of caution.

Thankfully, prison escapes are a rare occurrence. Let's hope it's a long time before we have to worry about one again.

But the time to prepare for the possibility of an escape is now. It would be a tragedy if someone would get killed or injured by an escaped prisoner because he or she had no idea an escape had even occurred.

Tim Shea is a Herald-Mail copy editor. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2329, or by e-mail at

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